life in a tiny apartment.

christmas decorations | reading my tea leaves

Tip #136: Size your traditions to fit your space.

I’ve written before about my philosophy on holiday decorating: Simple and spare and requiring only a shoe box’s worth of space in the closet for storage in the off-season.

For the past eight years—in apartments both spacious and tiny—James and I have supplemented our strings of lights and few ornaments, with bits of botanical and otherwise earth-friendly things. Some years that’s been tiny pinecones, or wintry wreaths, or branches lugged across a snowy college campus. This year, James and I bought a small Christmas tree and a fresh pine garland from the stand down the street. And of course, we’ve made room for a tiny advent calendar. But we started a new tradition, too. 


christmas decorations | reading my tea leavesAs a child, holiday decorating in my family included receiving a new ornament each year on Christmas Eve. My mom would give one to each of my sisters and me and they’d be a variation on the same theme: angels with four different musical instruments, birds of four kinds, jolly elves in four different colored scarves.


My collection still spends most of the year in the attic at my mom and dad’s house. (This time of year they’re usually still decking the tree at their house.) And until recently there was also a very large and increasingly cloudy collection of snow globes, given to me by family and friends, year after year at Christmastime. 


The ornaments I’ll bring into my own home someday, no doubt. After some amount of consternation, the snow globes were sold at a tag sale. The thing about holiday traditions is that sometimes they include an array of stuff that doesn’t pass the test of time (or space). As an adult, I admit to preferring the simplicity of a tree draped, foremost, with lights. But I also don’t have a space for keeping Tupperware bins of decorations that come out but once a year. So without being ungrateful for the years my mom spent picking out the perfect ornaments for me and my sisters, I’ve been thinking of a way to borrow from the family decorating tradition that relies a little less on adding to an ever-growing pile of things to store, but that still feels festive. Dare I say, magical.


And so, Christmas candles! The stuff of illustrated Christmas cards and picture books, I longed for a candle-lit tree as a child. The advent of electrical string lights was surely an improvement for fire-safety and ease of decorating, but the nod to an old-timey tradition, and the few minutes it takes to make them as a family still seems benign decorations | reading my tea leavesWe’ve rolled tiny beeswax candles to fit into a set of vintage German candle holders that I found last year. Combined with a few strings of lights more compatible with life in the 21st century, the unlit candles and twinkly lights set a scene that’s sufficiently merry (and especially bright) for December nights. We might eventually add a garland of popcorn and cranberries to the tree. When we go to my parents’ house for the weekend, I can imagine returning home with clippings of berries and twigs to add a bit of color. But for now there’s a nightly lighting and abundant ooing from the smallest member of our tribe.




If we’re very careful to trim our wicks and place our candles strategically, were hoping to burn our candles on Christmas Eve (or, in years when we’re traveling, on some other festive night). Tiny as they are, and of the homespun rolled variety, the burning will likely be a short-lived affair. (Perhaps the better, so as not to burn down the place to the ground.) But whether we’re brave enough to set the candles ablaze, the candle making itself could still be something special to do year in and year out. I’m hoping it’s a tradition that won’t get too tiresome for everyone involved, and that won’t require too much in the way of resources of space or time or money. At the very least it’s something that I’ll get a personal thrill out of it, and, well, good enough for me. christmas decorations | reading my tea leavesWhat about you guys? New December traditions? Old ones? In case anyone doubted, it’s a favorite topic ’round these parts. I’d love to hear what you’ve been up to in your spaces small or large.


PS. If you’re wanting to roll your own candles for tiny christmas holders or menorahs, I followed these basic instructions (but instead of making two candles per sheet of beeswax, I folded the sheet into eight sections; if a birthday-size candle is what you’re after, I’d double that number still again.)

PPS. If you’re on the hunt for vintage clips of your own, Etsy sellers have them by the dozen.

Tiny apartment survival tips # 1 – 135, RIGHT HERE

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